“A valuable exercise in engagement” was ACL chairman Sue Nash’s verdict on last week’s EGM in London, where around 40 members spent two hours in robust but constructive exchanges with the Council.
One of the main issues to come out of the debate was the need to further improve communication.
Ms Nash started by warning members that “the future for our profession is going to be very different from our past. Our core work isn’t going to die, but it is going to fall away considerably. The direction of travel since the Jackson report has been quite clear… If you just rely on your traditional workstream, you won’t have a job in five years’ time.”
But this was not a message of doom; rather a way of urging members to see that “as one door closes, another opens” and that there were – or would be – various new opportunities out there for Costs Lawyers.
At the same time, the ACL has been working hard to make its voice heard in the reform process and is now recognised by judges, civil servants, journalists and others as a stakeholder.
Members should have already seen the outcome of the formal part of the EGM. The meeting received and adopted the ACL’s 2014 accounts, noted ACL Training’s 2014 accounts and approved the appointment of Steve Davies and David Wright as ACL directors (effectively Council members).
However, only 58% voted for the proposed new process of electing future ACL chairs, short of the required 75% majority, with opponents such as Annette Livingstone arguing that it was a “convoluted way” of voting for the new chair and that there was nothing wrong with the existing system. Paul Seddon countered that he felt “completely at sea” when he was thrust into chairing the ACL’s legal aid group without any experience of holding such a position, “So I think the idea that you have to be the vice-chair first is a good one.” Council member Francis Kendall noted that the proposed system was also used by other bodies such as the Law Society.
Among the other issues discussed were:
• Having the Costs Lawyer qualification recognised by Ofqual to make it portable to other qualifications. Work on this is well underway, said training committee chairman Jon Lord, along with introducing extra modules such as on project management;
• The possibility of encouraging non-Costs Lawyer draftsmen to join the association is under consideration, but no decision has been taken. The key issue is how experienced non-Costs Lawyers can prove their competence without having to go through the entire course. The cost would still be the same or possibly more, however;
• Six CPD modules are being developed for members for 2016;
• There was a feeling that not enough was being done to prepare the profession for developments such as the J-Codes and new bill format, but this could just be a matter of improving communication; and
• Communication came up time and again, with Paul Carter suggesting that “a lot of bad feelings would not have arisen” had the membership been kept better informed.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Nash said the EGM had been a “valuable exercise in engagement that proved we have members who care and, equally, a Council that is committed to delivering what they want. I think we’ve gone some way to clearing the air”.
She continued: “There is only so much that we, as volunteers, can achieve and that is why we have put in place a professional structure around the Council that is helping to push our profession forward at a time when pushing is what we need to do.”